Scalp doctors consider the root of problemsWish you could have that perfect wind-blown hairstyle, but lack the hair to do it?
The situation isn’t hopeless. Consider the case of Kim Jong-chul, a handsome, successful 33-year-old financial consultant who was losing handfuls of hair ― a serious impediment, he thought, to getting married and being happy. He consulted a specialist about hair transplants.
“Exactly one year after the surgery, he got married to his dream girl,” says his surgeon, Dr. Kim Soo-gyun of Dr. Kim’s Hair Surgery in Samseong-dong in southern Seoul.
Great strides have recently been made in hair transplant technology, Dr. Kim says, although he notes that success depends on an individual’s genes.
Between 60 and 70 percent of men and 4 to 8 percent of women suffer from hair loss sometime during their lives.
That’s a lot of hair, meaning that hair transplants are big business, and that anyone considering the procedure should carefully research the qualifications of his physician and the procedure he uses.
Dr. Kim Jung-chul of Kyungpook National University and Dr. Choi Young-chul, a private practitioner, have researched new hair transplant technologies that they say are better suited for Asian hair, which differs substantially from Caucasian hair.
The doctors have created a hair transplant procedure called a “singular,” or “micro-graft” procedure, that uses special manual transplanters that insert single strands of hair into the scalp. They claim their procedure is the only one that can guarantee natural post-operative results.
“The most important goal for human hair transplants by micro-grafts is to make the hair look natural,” says Dr. Oh Jun-kyu of the Rich Hair Clinic in Cheongdam-dong.
According to these doctors, the techniques employed by Western doctors don’t work on Asians because Asian hair is thicker and there is less of it on the scalp.
Transplanting with a “punch graft” works on fine-strand Caucasian hair, but produces noticeably unnatural results with Asians. In extreme cases, Dr. Oh has examined patients who have had scars on their scalps due to doctors using outdated punch graft techniques.
Before getting a hair transplant, Dr. Oh says it’s important to accurately diagnose the cause of the hair loss. Common causes include disease, stress and scalp infections.
Permanent loss is often caused by fluctuations of male hormones, and this generally affects the frontal areas and crown of a head. “Once you begin to see the hairline receding, nothing but a hair transplant can help,” Dr. Oh says.
In the case of temporary hair loss, hair generally thins at the crown of the head. If the condition is left unattended and the scalp stiffens, treatment becomes difficult. Seeking professional medical attention may improve the condition, but it’s costly and takes months of treatment.
In most cases, Dr. Oh takes a gradual, holistic approach to hair loss treatment. This may take up to six months to produce the desired results.
If holistic procedures fail, Dr. Oh then recommends micro-graft transplant surgery. “Compared with other methods, hair transplants by micro-graft are the most natural, reliable and permanent, with no maintenance needed after the surgery,” he says.
Dr. Kim’s approach differs. He believes that once the hair is lost, the body can’t regenerate it. “If hair loss genes run in your blood, nothing but reconstructive surgery can prevent baldness,” he says during a break between surgeries.
The procedure begins with the removal of a 20-centimeter by 1-centimeter (8-inch by 1/2-inch) strip of skin from the back of the patient’s head that provides about 2,000 hair samples. A technician next separates each hair follicle by thickness.
The patient then undergoes a six- to seven-hour operation in which the doctor “harvests” and “inserts” each hair into carefully determined places at the correct angle. Fine hair is planted near the hairline. Thicker follicles that share the same root are planted in larger balding spots.
Dr. Kim says that if the procedure is done incorrectly, the newly transplanted hair won’t grow. To lessen complications, he uses an advanced transplanter that he recently developed.
“Determining the proper direction of hair growth and the location to plant hairs of different thickness are critical in making the hair grow naturally,” Dr. Oh says. He uses a manual hair transplanter, a syringe-like machine developed by Dr. Choi in the early 1990s, to insert each hair into the skin.
Professional cleansing and care are required the first three days following the transplant. Stitches in the back of the head are removed after 10 days. The hair roots take hold in about two weeks.
Over the next two or three months, the newly planted shafts of hair will gradually fall out. However, about 90 percent of the hair grows back in six months, if the procedure has been done properly.
It takes at least a year for the head to heal before another batch of hair can be harvested for transplanting. “The trickiest thing about maintaining your hair after surgical treatment is that, after a few years, you may lose hair from other areas of your scalp,” says Dr. Kim of Dr. Kim’s Hair Surgery. He suggests that balding men consult a reliable doctor about a lifetime plan for their scalp since hair undergoes several changes and stages through a person’s life.
What does the future hold for baldness treatments?
“Hair cloning may be the ultimate solution, although any procedure involving genetic coding won’t be developed for several years,” says Dr. Oh, who is researching the topic at Seoul National University Hospital. He is also studying cellular transplants, a procedure currently used when transplanting bone marrow. His goal is to remove and transplant cells that have the genetic codes to strengthen hair.
by Ines Cho